I like taking walks in the city I live, and I also like taking photos of the river that runs near my house. The river is an interesting place to watch, because of the birds and the other animals, but there is also a lot going on there depending on the time of year. A lot of boats in the summer. Shanties in the winter. Leaves on the breaks in the fall.
There are stories there.
““Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it,” writes Norman Maclean in A River Runs through it and Other Stories. “The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
Whether the waters are haunting or not doesn’t matter too much to me, because there lots of other stories to tell that don’t involve the early death of one’s sibling or the fear of drowning when rafting the rough currents. The stories get me thinking and that’s a good way to spend an evening or a morning, especially if you are trying to make sense of one that’s tricky.
In Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Looking-Glass River” he states: “Smooth it glides upon its travel / Here a wimple, there a gleam– / O the clean gravel! / O the smooth stream!” I can’t speak much for the clean gravel in my neck of the woods, but I believe I’ve seen a wimple and gleam here and there as I follow the shore on either side. Often, I’m silently confronted by early risers out for their morning strolls or nightwalkers seeking the evening calm.
“I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river / Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,” wrote T.S. Eliot in The Four Quartets. “The river is within us, the sea is all about us; / The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite / Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses.”
The divinity placed upon water itself is apparent in much religious writing, as it has been of critical importance to both maritime law and commerce for ages, importing and exporting food and famine, war and peace. It has also been a source of wonder and musings about existence.
In “The River,” Ralph Waldo Emerson penned:
And I behold once more
My old familiar haunts; here the blue river,
The same blue wonder that my infant eye
Admired, sage doubting whence the traveller came,—
Whence brought his sunny bubbles ere he washed
The fragrant flag-roots in my father’s fields,
And where thereafter in the world he went.”
At times we don’t know where the river’s been or where it goes, because we can look at it and think about the images it conjures in our animal brains; but, mostly, walking by the water gives me piece of mind. There are many things to see and there are many things to think about.
I am about both sometimes.
Eliot, T. S. Four Quartets – 3 The Dry Salvages. davidgorman.com/4quartets/3-salvages.htm.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The River by Ralph Waldo Emerson – Poems | Academy of American Poets. 15 Aug. 2021, poets.org/poem/river.
Norman, Maclean. “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories.” University of Chicago Press, 16 May 2017.
Stevenson, Robert. Poets’ Corner – Robert Louis Stevenson – A Child’s Garden of Verses. poems.theotherpages.org/rls02.html#35.